Friday, December 28, 2012

Good News Friday!

The 12th annual Imagine! Celebration on Friday, January 25, 2013 will have a special focus this year, as it launches a year-long salute to Imagine!’s 50th year. In 1963, when Beatlemania was in full swing, popular films were “Lawrence of Arabia” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and the average cost of a gallon of gas was 29 cents, a group of parents came together to design an alternative to the standard practice of sending children with developmental disabilities away to live in institutions. And on August 6, 1963, Imagine! (known by several different names in the interim) became the first organization in the state dedicated to such a purpose.

The Imagine! Celebration has set its goal at $250,000 -- $50,000 for each of Imagine!’s five decades. Participants in Heads and Tails will pay $50 for the opportunity to win a $500 gift certificate from a special local restaurant, and the goal of the Special Appeal will be $50,000.

A great lineup of live auction items will lead the way to achieving the overall goal. New this year is a delicious catered farm table dinner for up to 12 people in September 2013, hosted by Imagine! Foundation president Sandy Bracken and his wife Sally at their lovely home. Guests will enjoy a delectable outdoor dining experience while gazing across open fields to a breathtaking view of the sun setting behind the Continental Divide. This year’s auction will also feature the reappearance of some truly wonderful favorites! Picture a week in a private home in beautiful Ouray, the “Switzerland of America,” compliments of Jay and Kathy Montgomery, or a family reunion at the exquisite Durango mountain home of Don Sullivan and Paige Lawrence. If you wish to travel a bit farther afield, George Karakehian, who will emcee the Celebration, and his wife Kristin will once again donate a week at their lovely Cape Cod home. A highlight of the live auction will again be a week at the gorgeous Greek island villa of the Palmos Family, and we are delighted to be able to include the return of Anahid Katchian’s exotic Mediterranean Feast. Online auction bidding will begin on January 9.

This year’s event will again be held at the Best Western Plus Plaza Conference Center in Longmont. More information about sponsors, auction items, and all of the festivities is available on the Imagine! website.

Purchase tickets and tables online by clicking here.   

Reserve now, and we’ll look forward to seeing you on January 25!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Good News Friday!

Wiffle bats and disco balls.

Those were just a couple of materials that ended up being important aspects of projects created by a group of University of Colorado Engineering students in classes taught by Associate Professor Melinda Piket-May. The projects were designed to create simple adaptive technologies for individuals we serve at Imagine!.

This is the fourth year Professor Piket-May’s students have created such projects. Below are some photos of a few of this semester’s projects.

You may notice a theme in the projects – they each provide opportunities for the recipients to control their own environment in a fun way. That may seem simple, but for an individual who has never had the capability to verbally or physically indicate his or her preferences to others, the basic act of participating in (and directing) an activity without assistance from a care provider is a profound first step toward a more fulfilling life.

This “switch-activated Wiffle bat swinger” is just what it sounds (and looks) like – giving Toby, who lives in Imagine!’s Charles Family SmartHome, the chance to control his very own Wiffle bat. This will come in handy for the softball season. Batter up, Toby!
In this picture, Shelly, who also lives in Imagine!’s Charles Family SmartHome, poses with her very own “Switch Activated Party Ball.” The disco ball is connected to a simple switch that Shelly can control, turning the ball on and off. Disco party at the SmartHome soon, Shelly?
In this picture, Dasha is showing off her new touch pad light controller, which she can use not only to turn the light on and off, but also to change light colors and brightness levels.
Thank you, once again, Professor Piket-May, for your ongoing support of Imagine! and the people we serve.

To learn more, and to see some previous student projects, click here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Driving In Reverse

If you have been paying attention at all to the discussions in our state about the funding of services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities, you have probably heard this refrain: the rates paid to providers of services are simply not keeping up with the cost of doing business.

This isn’t a bunch of greedy providers trying to pocket more money, this is a very dangerous trend which is putting our entire system’s ability to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens in danger.

Check out the graph below, which compares rates paid to providers with the Consumer Price Index in Denver, Boulder, and Greeley from FY 1997-98 through 2011-12. I think you will notice a disturbing trend. (You can click on the graph to get a bigger view).

This graphic is based on a memorandum from staff members of Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC), to the JBC, dated January 24, 2012.

Those aren’t just lines and numbers. That growing separation between what providers are getting paid and what it actually costs to do business shown above is not a secret and has very real consequences for individuals receiving support services in our state.

Let me give you an example from here at Imagine! of how this disparity is impacting our ability to provide opportunities for the people we serve to engage fully in their communities. Boulder and Broomfield counties are enjoying a much lower unemployment rate than most areas of the state and country. What does that mean to us when we are paid 70 cents on the dollar for services rendered? It means we will have a heck of a time recruiting the talent we need to get the job done. It means we will continue to see service ratios drop, similar to growing classroom sizes in education, and a return to more congregate settings. Add to the fact that the system of payments does not incentivize the use of natural supports and personal job placements. The result is a return to what we escaped from 30 years ago. We appear to be driving in reverse.

I believe this represents a move away from a person-centered and personalized approach to services that foster lives of fulfillment. But this isn’t just about philosophies about inclusion and the meaning of being a community member. The fact is there aren’t many more places that providers can cut when it comes to providing services. The low hanging fruit has been picked, as it were. We are on the brink of a situation where the health and safety of the people we serve will be put at great risk, as fewer and fewer providers are able to stay in business while receiving only about 70 cents for every dollar’s worth of service delivered.

The disparity between what it costs to provide services and the rates providers are paid cannot continue to widen.  I encourage decision-makers to look closely at what has transpired over the last decade and begin restoration and investment in what can be a very bright future for all people concerned.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Good News Friday!

Today, I’d like to share a story that originally appeared in the December edition of the Imagine! employee newsletter.

The story is about a gentleman named Carl, who receives services from Imagine!. Tomorrow, Carl will be travelling to New Orleans by himself, where he will be volunteering as part of the St. Bernard Project to help rebuild homes that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Carl has already traveled to New Orleans several times to help rebuild neighborhoods devastated by Katrina. Alan Johnson, a member of First Congregational Church in Boulder, of which Carl is also a member, told us, “In New Orleans, Carl has helped by laying floors, painting, sanding, drilling in drywall, and cleaning up. On top of that, when we get lost in the French Quarter, or almost anywhere in New Orleans, Carl knows where to go. He has an uncanny sense of location. He also remembers every house he worked on and the names of those who live there.”

While Carl has helped change lives in New Orleans, he has also helped to change minds right here in Boulder. As Alan explained, “Carl has been a blessing in our church of 850 members. He attends the weekly bell choir and the adult choir as well as attending adult education programs, and sometimes both the early and the second service on Sundays. His involvement in our church was instrumental in leading to our congregation’s unanimous vote to become one of the first five churches in the USA to be what is called Accessible to All, or A2A, a national program of our United Church of Christ. Carl’s presence, involvement, and always extending a handshake to everyone has graced us.”

Often, I talk about Imagine! working to provide opportunities for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities to contribute to their communities. Carl’s story shows that that should only be a starting point. Carl isn’t just a contributor in his community, he is a leader in his community, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Way to go, Carl!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Share Your Story!

In 2013, Imagine! will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary. This is a pretty significant milestone, one that speaks to Imagine!’s stability, credibility, in addition to the level of trust that has developed between Imagine!, our community, and the people we serve.

To help celebrate 50 years of building quality lives, I will be starting a new feature on my blog next year called “50 Years, 50 Stories.” Every week I will share a story about Imagine!, our programs, our employees, and the individuals who have received services from us over the past 50 years. I hope the stories will demonstrate just how important of an impact Imagine! has had over this past half century.

But I can’t just make these stories up. I need your help. If you have a story about how Imagine! has impacted your life, I would love to hear it. The stories can be funny, touching, inspirational, an unexpected learning moment, or just something that has stuck with over the years. Photos are strongly encouraged.

Whether you are a client, an employee, a former employee, a parent, or a community member, I’m sure you have a story to tell, and I’d like to share it.

If you are interested in sharing your story, please email Caroline Siegfried at or call her at 303-926-6405. We look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Good News Friday!

Tonight is Imagine!’s annual employee holiday party, and that means that once again I will have the honor of publicly acknowledging Imagine!’s 2012 Employees of Distinction.

I often comment about how fortunate I am to work at Imagine!, because the level of dedication, creativity, and passion among our employees is astounding. But even in that rarefied atmosphere, there are a few employees that still manage to stand out. Employees who make a tremendous difference to our organization and the people we serve. These are our Employees of Distinction.

Below are this year’s honorees, along with just a little information about what makes each employee so deserving of this prestigious award.

Congratulations to our 2012 Employees of Distinction!

Jill Johnson
“Jill goes above and beyond when it comes to customer service, both within her daily interactions with staff members and providers as well as her interactions with the community.”

Anna Knott

“Anna has proven herself to be a valuable asset to Innovations residential programs, and has great relationships with consumers, guardians, and Imagine! staff members.”

Lou Ella Price

“Lou Ella has organized numerous informative and successful events for consumers and the community. She is a prime example of an employee striving to fulfill our mission statement.”
Liz Reed

“Liz really did a great job transitioning from Service Coordination to Early Intervention last year. She learned everything so fast, and she is pretty amazing. Liz’s dedication is inspiring.”

Katherine Smith

“Katherine stands out in her position due to her determination to teach creative expression in her class, which can later translate into other skills such as socialization skills and independence.”
Lucy Williams

“Lucy exemplifies the mission of Imagine! and goes above and beyond in advocating for services that will enable an individual to be more independent and contribute to his/her community.” 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Bucket List

This won’t be the first time you have heard me say this: the system of funding and delivering services to individuals with one or more developmental disabilities in our state, and our nation, is facing a variety of challenges and a changing landscape that will undoubtedly alter the face of service delivery in the future.

What sort of challenges? How about the fact that individuals with developmental disabilities are living longer than ever, and as they age, their needs are becoming increasingly complex? In addition, with the “silver tsunami” of retiring and aging baby boomers approaching, the demand for services for seniors is increasing rapidly. Meanwhile, the workforce available to meet this increased demand continues to shrink.

And how is the landscape changing? Well, there is no doubt that technological advances have opened the door to opportunities for the individuals that we serve that simply didn’t exist a few short years ago. Additionally, the internet and social media have made families and the people we serve savvier and more informed about the choices available to them than ever before. With that increased knowledge comes an increase in expectations about the quality and availability of services.

Now, I don’t claim to be the only one to have recognized these trends, which seem to be creating a perfect storm that will irreversibly change the way services are delivered to some of our most vulnerable citizens. Many government agencies, providers, and advocacy groups are looking into the future and trying to make plans to ensure the individuals we serve don’t get lost in that storm.

I am encouraged by this, but I also want to make sure we all do our due diligence before moving forward too quickly with any one approach. I say that because I wonder if right now we are moving in one direction, and one direction only, without exploring a variety of options.

What direction is that? It is what we might call the “big bucket” direction. Government, both locally and nationally, seems to be pushing to consolidate administration of services for individuals with a wide variety of disabilities along with aging individuals – putting them all in one big administrative bucket. I am unsure of the argument. Maybe this will make it easier to administer, and navigate, programs and services by eliminating red tape. In this direction, the changes in funding and services will mainly come from centralized regulatory and policy-making perspective.

Now perhaps this “big bucket” direction is the best option. But let me at least consider an alternative – a direction we might call “divide and conquer.” In this direction, rather than lumping every disability (and aging) population into a “one size fits all” giant bucket, maybe it might make sense to separate the buckets so we can more precisely meet the incredibly diverse needs of these unique populations. With this direction, change is more likely to be driven by providers, families, and the individuals we serve, resulting in more self-determined outcomes.

Let me give you an analogy. Let’s talk about how our country has evolved in terms of how we dispose of our garbage (and let me be clear – I am not equating the population we serve with trash. Rather, I am looking at a historical example of a “big bucket” versus a “divide and conquer” approach to solving a problem). Back when I was young, nobody ever talked about recycling or composting. You threw all your trash in the trash can, and the garbage men came and picked it up and took it to the landfill. This was a “big bucket” approach.

Eventually, however, our society began to realize that we were running out of space, and there may be value in selected items being tossed. And slowly, a movement began to grow that encouraged people to recycle and compost. Not everything had to be trash. Some items had value and could be reused and repurposed. This movement was driven by the providers, such as Western Disposal. They educated the end-users. Making recycling and composting possible was the fact that some companies began to realize that they could make money in the recycling business. Ultimately, the movement toward a society that is much more focused on recycling was not fueled by government regulations, but rather by companies that could profit from recycling combined with a public that saw benefit in limiting the number (and size) of trash piles in their communities.

It is distinctly possible that our society could also benefit from an approach to services that doesn’t try to make every population in need fit into a single bucket.

So I encourage everyone involved in the decision making process about how we move forward with the design of our system to do their homework and ask the hard questions. Is one bucket really the way to go when it comes to serving the needs of such a diverse population? Will it really be more efficient or cost effective? Better for the end-user? Or perhaps we should consider having more than one big bucket. Maybe we should have several buckets, a bucket list of a different sort, if you will.

The important discussions surrounding the future of services are finally taking place. Let’s make sure the discussions are thorough and that we consider all alternatives before making any final decisions.

There is so much at stake. Then again, what do I know?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today Is Colorado Gives Day!

Today is Colorado Gives Day, and Imagine! is participating.

Donations made online through our website today at any of the “Donate Here” buttons will be eligible for partial matching funds. (The “Donate Here” button takes you directly to the Community First Foundation site and saves all bank fees for credit card donations.) 

If you are thinking about making a gift to Imagine! before the end of the calendar year, please consider doing it online through our website today! You may also designate a particular Imagine! program in the “Any comments or special instructions” box if you would like. The only gifts that are ineligible are donations for which you receive something in return, such as tickets or sponsorships to our Imagine! Celebration.

Give where you live!